Chief Science Correspondent
Death is the most inevitable truth of human existence, and yet often one of the most difficult topics to discuss.
It's hard to imagine a world in which we are no longer tied to our own bodies. Sometimes, the easiest solution is to simply avoid talking about the subject altogether.
But according to Jae Rhim Lee, maybe we should be.
In a 2011 TED talk, Lee points out that our bodies gradually build up thousands of different toxins that we take in from our food and the environment. Once, we die, the toxic chemicals will likely either be released into the air (via cremation) or into the soil (via traditional burial).
When we consider all the chemicals that are pumped into - and plastered outside - the bodies of our loved ones to preserve their bodies in open casket funerals, the situation becomes even worse. You may have read the Cracked.com article "5 Horrifying Truths About Funeral Homes (From an Undertaker)" last week, which outlines the process in further detail.
It's actually a bit ridiculous. And it is tragic that our last act as human beings is to continue to destroy the world that we have left as a legacy for our loved ones.
The concept of Lee's project is that she has selectively bred a fungal species to recognize her hair and skin as food, consuming the tissue and absorbing the toxins within them. Over the past six years, the strain has become more effective.
The project is almost the death-version of personalized medicine; with our modern understanding of genetics and physiology, we can tailor both human health, and environmental health, to every individual who uses it.
I find Lee's project fascinating primarily because she claims she has effectively bred the fungus to her own tissues. Essentially, she's almost evolving the fungus to form a type of symbiosis. We typically think of evolution as occurring over thousands or millions of generations, and even though scientists have proven that this isn't always the case, it's rare that humans can deliberately control natural evolution so effectively.
If you want to leave a legacy of environmental responsibility, and the idea of being eaten by mushrooms doesn't scare you to death, you should consider looking more into Lee's work.
Whether you choose to undergo the "Infinity Burial Project" or not, the point is that these types of research made possible by modern science is incredible. If nothing else, we must allow ourselves to be open to new ways of thinking and living that these research projects generate.